Tropical cyclone kills at least 113 in Indonesia, East Timor

By Yos Seran and Agustinus Beo Da Costa

MALAKA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Floods and landslides triggered by tropical cyclone Seroja in a cluster of islands in southeast Indonesia and East Timor have killed 113 people, with many still unaccounted for and thousands displaced, officials said on Monday.

At least 86 deaths were reported on several islands in Indonesia’s West and East Nusa Tenggara provinces, while 71 others were missing, after the cyclone brought flash floods, landslides and strong winds amid heavy rain over the weekend, disaster agency BNPB said.

In East Timor, which shares the Timor island with Indonesia, at least 27 people were killed by landslides, flash floods and a falling tree, while 7,000 were displaced, its government said.

On Lembata island, authorities feared bodies had been washed away.

“We are using rubber boats to find bodies at sea. In several villages, flash floods hit while people were sleeping,” Thomas Ola Langoday, deputy head of Lembata district government, told Reuters by phone.

About 30,000 people have been impacted by floods in Indonesia, some already taking shelter in evacuation centers, but rescue operations have been made difficult after five bridges collapsed and falling trees blocked some roads, BNPB spokesman Raditya Jati said.

A continuing storm had also halted evacuations in some places, local authorities said.

Hundreds of houses and other facilities such as a solar power plant were damaged, BNPB said. Ships and motor boats sank as the cyclone set off waves as high as 6 meters.

Powerful currents continued to flow through villages in the Malaka district on Timor island on Monday, even though the rain had stopped.

Some residents there hauled themselves to their roofs to escape flood water rising to 3-4 meters.

“We had to dismantle the zinc roof. We went out through the back door and pulled ourselves out with a rope,” Agustina Luruk, 36, told Reuters as she and her three daughters waited to be evacuated by the side of a muddy road.

President Joko Widodo offered his condolences and ordered speedy disaster relief efforts.

The Seroja cyclone hit the Savu sea southwest of Timor island in the early hours of Monday, Indonesia’s weather agency said.

Within 24 hours, the cyclone’s intensity could strengthen, bringing yet more rain, waves and winds, although it was moving away from Indonesia, the agency said.

Dwikorita Karnawati, the agency’s head, said that the cyclone would be weakening in the next two days.

(Reporting by Yos Seran in Malaka, Agustinus Beo Da Costa in Jakarta, Nelson Da Cruz in Dili; Additional reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Martin Petty, Giles Elgood, Kirsten Donovan)

Hawaii declares emergency due to floods, orders evacuations

By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) – Hawaii Governor David Ige declared an emergency in the U.S. state after heavy rains brought floods, landslides and fear of dam failures, and authorities ordered the evacuation of several thousand people from communities threatened by rising waters.

The move came after a dam overflowed on the island of Maui, forcing evacuations and destroying homes, with the dam’s “unsatisfactory” condition leading to it being scheduled for removal this year, the land department has said.

“The emergency proclamation makes state general funds available that can be used quickly and efficiently to help those impacted by the severe weather,” Ige said on Tuesday.

Poor weather was expected to run until Friday, he added, and flood advisories stayed in place for a second day

The emergency declaration covers the counties of Hawai’i, Maui, Kalawao, O’ahu and Kaua’i, the governor’s office said in a statement, while the disaster relief period runs until May 8.

The Honolulu Department of Emergency Management directed people to leave Haleiwa, a community of a few thousand people to the north of state capital Honolulu.

Hawaii News Now reported that two people were swept away in raging waters on Tuesday. One of them, a 27-year-old man, was rescued by authorities. A search for the other would resume on Wednesday, according to the report.

There were no other immediate reports of injuries or casualties.

In Maui, heavy rains damaged roads, leaving them impassable, with one bridge completely washed out and another displaced, the governor’s office said.

State emergency management officials had said the rains led to the cresting of the Kaupakalua dam in the northern region of Haiku, prompting authorities to open evacuation shelters and urge people not to return home.

Six homes were heavily damaged or destroyed, said Maui mayor Michael Victorino.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Clarence Fernandez & Simon Cameron-Moore)

A day on Rohingya’s remote Bangladesh island

By Mohammad Ponir Hossain

BHASAN CHAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) – As a Bangladeshi naval ship anchored off a remote Bay of Bengal island, some of the Rohingya refugees aboard clapped in anticipation of starting a new life on a piece of land that did not even exist two decades ago.

Carrying poultry and sacks of belongings, they are part of a second group of about 1,800 Rohingya that Bangladesh moved on Tuesday from cramped refugee camps on the mainland to the low-lying island despite opposition from rights groups.

“Welcome to Bhasan Char,” read a banner as the refugees walked off the jetty on the island, nearly as big as Manhattan. Navy trucks and tractor trailers took them to multiple rows of concrete houses with their pinkish-red painted tin roofs.

A Reuters photographer was among a team of journalists given rare access to the island that is about three hours from the nearest port in Chittagong, and is fully exposed to nature’s vagaries in a country with a tragic history of deadly storms.

Bangladesh says it has spent more than $350 million of its own money to ready housing and other infrastructure to voluntarily move some 100,000 Rohingya to the island in an effort to ease overcrowding in camps near the Myanmar border, even though rights groups said many were being coerced or paid to move. The government denies the charges.

“Mashallah! Wonderful place,” one man, a father of six, exclaimed using an Arabic expression for appreciation at the arrangements at Bhasan Char.

“We are so happy with the accommodation. The children are so excited to see the playground,” he said, but added: “We just pray floods don’t kill us.”

CHEEK BY JOWL

The government said earlier this month that the housing was built on concrete foundation which could withstand natural disasters, noting it withstood cyclone Amphan in May which killed more than 100 people in Bangladesh and eastern India.

A middle-aged man who reached Bhasan Char with his wife and three children on Tuesday said his camp leader had convinced him that they were better off relocating than staying back in the dilapidated shelters on the mainland where one million of them live cheek by jowl.

Reuters is withholding the names of the Rohingya to protect their identity as some in the community are against the move to the isolated island from where they won’t be allowed to leave without government permission.

The government has built a 2-metre (6.5 feet) high embankment for 12 kms (7.5 miles) to protect the island, where sheep grazed on its greenish-grey grass as the new arrivals were screened for coronavirus by health workers in white overalls.

Reuters was not allowed to meet with a previous group of some 1,600 Rohingya that was relocated early this month, but a Navy SUV drove journalists through the cemented lanes separating neat rows of grey-walled housing blocks with wide porches.

Journalists were also shown around an empty room with two steel-and-plastic bunk beds for four people, a community kitchen with multiple stoves separated by small concrete partitions and a fresh-water pond. A big white bungalow enclosed with a fence is reserved for VVIPs in case anyone fancies a visit.

“The Rohingya people who have shifted there are very happy with the arrangement,” Foreign Minister Abdul Momen told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Ruma Paul in Dhaka, Writing by Krishna N. Das and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

Honduras hurricanes push thousands into homelessness

By Jose Cabezas

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras (Reuters) – Willian Castro and his family huddled on the roof of a banana packing plant for three days as Hurricane Eta raged last month, seeking to escape the torrential rains and floods that swept through his home and thousands of others.

His city of San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras was one of the areas worst hit by Eta and Hurricane Iota, which struck just two weeks later, deepening the economic hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic in Central America.

Castro, 34, worked as a barber from his home, which was destroyed in the storms. He is now considering following thousands of Hondurans before him who saw emigration north as a way out of poverty.

“We will have to start over,” he said. “We can’t do it alone. If not, I’ll have to think about what many have done in the past, go to the United States.”

For now, Castro is living in a friend’s house near San Pedro Sula. Private organizations have given his family food, and neighbors who receive remittances from relatives in the United States have also helped.

“The government has not given us anything,” Castro said.

Julissa Mercado, a spokeswoman for government disaster agency COPECO, said the area around San Pedro Sula received food aid, but that it was inevitable that some people would say they had not received assistance.

Nationwide, some 4.5 million people – half the Honduran population – have been impacted by the hurricanes and their aftermath, including landslides and rain that submerged entire communities, the government said. More than 85,200 homes were damaged and 6,100 destroyed.

In Castro’s old neighborhood, the accumulated rainwater is a meter high in some areas, and downed power poles and trees, furniture and appliances still clutter the streets.

Some 95,000 people in San Pedro Sula have taken refuge in shelters. Thousands of others sleep each night in flimsy sheds made of wood and plastic sheets, on sidewalks or under bridges.

President Juan Orlando Hernandez has called for help from other nations. “It’s the worst disaster that we have experienced in the history of the Republic of Honduras,” he said on Thursday at an event recognizing first responders.

Even before the twin storms, which also killed 100 people, Honduras was expecting an economic contraction of 10.5% this year due to the pandemic.

“After losing their homes, assets and even their jobs, people who were already poor are now even worse off,” said Nelson Garcia, director of the Mennonite Social Action Commission (CASM), a human rights organization.

(Reporting by Jose Cabezas and Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Adriana Barrera, Editing by Daina Beth Solomon and John Stonestreet)

Violence, floods in South Sudan’s Warrap state displace thousands

By Denis Dumo

WARRAP STATE, South Sudan (Reuters) – James Athian and his nine children have been living in a makeshift camp in South Sudan’s Warrap state for two months since floods destroyed their house.

Athian and his family are among the 377,300 people displaced by floods and violence in Warrap since July, the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. Nationwide, more than one million people have been temporarily forced from their homes.

“I have nine children and every time they get sick of malaria. (There is) no food and no good place to sleep,” Athian told Reuters, standing near submerged houses in his village of Mangar Ajak.

Before the flooding, oil-producing South Sudan had already gone through five years of civil war, which ended in 2018 with a fragile peace deal.

The worst rains in living memory have meant that roughly half of South Sudan’s 78 counties have large swathes of land under water, the U.N. says.

Aleu Akol, 59, who has been at Mangar Ajak for one-and-a-half months, said people received aid from humanitarian organizations, but he had to find other means to supplement that.

“We fish in this water to survive because I don’t have work that can generate income. See, my legs are swelling from (being in) the water,” he said.

Attacks by bandits and ethnic militias are still common, compounding the effects of the floods.

“People are being killed randomly and insecurity is so bad that people were not able to cultivate (their crops) in May,” Moses Athian Paul, coordinator of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission of Warrap’s Tonj County, said.

“If people don’t get food from the government of the World Food Program by February, many will die of hunger.”

(Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

Famine stalks millions in South Sudan after droughts, floods: U.N.

Famine stalks millions in South Sudan after droughts, floods: U.N.
By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Famine threatens the lives of up to 5.5 million people in South Sudan, where droughts and flooding have destroyed crops and livestock, compounding “intense political instability”, the United Nations warned on Thursday.

The U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) said it needed $270 million urgently to provide food to hungry South Sudanese in the first half of 2020 and avert mass starvation in the world’s youngest country.

“Every factor is in place for there to be famine in 2020 unless we take immediate action to expand our deliveries in areas affected by floods and other areas affected by food loss,” Matthew Hollingworth, WFP country director, told Reuters.

“We need to pre-position food around the country in the next two to three months,” he said, noting that road access to many remote communities would be impossible after the rainy season sets in.

The government declared a state of emergency in late October in Bahr El Ghazal, Greater Upper Nile and Greater Equatoria after months of flooding, WFP said in a statement.

Nearly 1 million people are directly affected by the floods and the waters have not receded in many places, it said.

“The scale of the loss from the harvest is enormous,” Hollingworth said, speaking by telephone from Juba.

Fields with 73,000 tonnes of sorghum, millet and corn have been lost as well as tens of thousands of cattle, chickens and goats on which families depended for survival, he said.

Acute malnutrition rates in children under the age of five have risen from 13% in 2018 to 16% this year, Hollingworth said, adding: “They have gone above the global emergency threshold of 15%.”

Water-borne diseases are spreading, although no cholera has been detected, he said.

“It can only get worse because of the situation and environment people are living in,” he said.

Civil war broke out in oil-producing South Sudan in 2013, less than two years after the country gained independence from Sudan following decades of war. The conflict that has killed an estimated 400,000 people and forced millions from their homes.

Inter-communal fighting still occurs in pockets hit by the flooding, Hollingworth said.

“Hunger and desperation bring instability when resources are stretched to the extent that makes an already unstable situation much worse. It is a wake-up call for us all,” he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Floods kill 113 in north India in late monsoon burst, jail, hospital submerged

By Saurabh Sharma

LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) – Heavy rains have killed at least 113 people in India’s Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states over the past three days, officials said on Monday, as floodwaters swamped a major city, inundated hospital wards and forced the evacuation of inmates from a jail.

India’s monsoon season that begins in June usually starts to retreat by early September, but heavy rains have continued across parts of the country this year, triggering floods.

An official said that at least 93 people had died in most populous Uttar Pradesh since Friday after its eastern areas were lashed by intense monsoon showers.

Rising water levels forced authorities to shift 900 inmates from a prison in eastern Ballia district, police officer Santosh Verma said.

In neighboring Bihar, an impoverished agrarian region that was hit by floods earlier this year, the death toll from the latest bout of rain had reached 20 on Monday, a state government official said.

Bihar’s capital city of Patna, home to around 2 million, has been badly hit, with waist-deep floodwaters across many streets, and entering homes, shops, and even the wards of a major hospital. In some parts, authorities deployed boats to rescue residents.

“The rains have stopped but there is waterlogging in many areas,” Bihar’s Additional Secretary in the Disaster Relief Department Amod Kumar Sharan said.

In its bulletin on Monday, India’s Meteorological Department said the intensity of rainfall over Bihar was very likely to reduce. Showers in Uttar Pradesh are also expected to abate this week.

Weather department officials said this month that monsoon rains were likely to be above average for the first time in six years.

(Reporting by Saurabh Sharma in LUCKNOW; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Alison Williams)

Torrential Imelda rains kill 2, flood homes, snarl travel around Houston

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Imelda dumped torrential rains over the Houston-area, killing at least two people, while rescuers in boats pulled hundreds from flooded cars, the airport temporarily halted flights and tens of thousands of people lost power.

Heavy rains had abated by Thursday evening, although flash flood watches remained in effect through Friday morning and rescuers were still working to reach stranded motorists and those trapped in homes late into the night as floodwaters were slow to drain off.

The National Hurricane Center said in a late Thursday bulletin that up to 45 inches of rain will have fallen in some areas by the time the storm blows off on Friday afternoon.

Ed Gonzalez, sheriff for Harris County, which includes Houston, confirmed the second death from the storm.

He tweeted on Thursday that he was at the scene where first-responders tried to save a man who had driven his white van headlong into deep waters.

“The water level was about 8′ (8 feet) high,” Gonzalez wrote, describing the incident. “The driver paused briefly, then accelerated into it the water, causing his van to go under.”

Gonzalez said the man driving the van was pulled from the vehicle after some 20 minutes underwater and was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

The other victim of the storm was electrocuted southeast of Houston while trying to move his horse to safety, according to a statement on the Facebook page of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. No other details were provided.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport halted all flights for about two hours, and Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster covering more than a dozen counties.

Hundreds of motorists were stranded in their vehicles as some of Houston’s main roadways flooded, submerging cars. Firefighters, police and ordinary citizens were out in boats and all-terrain vehicles to pick up people trapped in their homes by the rising waters.

The storm knocked out power to around 100,000 people in Houston and southeast Texas, according to reports from energy companies, while work at oil refineries in the area was slowed or halted.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city was better prepared to rescue stranded residents and deal with flooding than when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, leading to dozens of deaths in Houston and billions of dollars in damage.

The small town of Winnie, about 60 miles (100 km) east of Houston, was also badly hit. Officials there evacuated Riceland Hospital and tried to rescue people marooned in their vehicles after roads turned into lakes.

Parts of Interstate 10, a major east-west highway, were closed near Winnie.

Imelda made landfall as a tropical storm near Freeport, Texas, on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston, Jonathan Allen in New York, Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, and Liz Hampton in Denver; Editing by Scott Malone, David Gregorio and Tom Hogue)

Torrential Imelda rains kill 2, flood homes, snarl travel around Houston

A car passes through a flooded street as storm Imelda hits Houston, Texas, U.S., September 19, 2019 in this screen grab obtained from social media video. @kingjames.daniel/via REUTERS

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Imelda dumped torrential rains over the Houston-area, killing at least two people, while rescuers in boats pulled hundreds from flooded cars, the airport temporarily halted flights and tens of thousands of people lost power.

Heavy rains had abated by Thursday evening, although flash flood watches remained in effect through Friday morning and rescuers were still working to reach stranded motorists and those trapped in homes late into the night as floodwaters were slow to drain off.

The National Hurricane Center said in a late Thursday bulletin that up to 45 inches of rain will have fallen in some areas by the time the storm blows off on Friday afternoon.

Ed Gonzalez, sheriff for Harris County, which includes Houston, confirmed the second death from the storm.

He tweeted on Thursday that he was at the scene where first-responders tried to save a man who had driven his white van headlong into deep waters.

“The water level was about 8′ (8 feet) high,” Gonzalez wrote, describing the incident. “The driver paused briefly, then accelerated into it the water, causing his van to go under.”

Gonzalez said the man driving the van was pulled from the vehicle after some 20 minutes underwater and was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

The other victim of the storm was electrocuted southeast of Houston while trying to move his horse to safety, according to a statement on the Facebook page of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. No other details were provided.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport halted all flights for about two hours, and Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster covering more than a dozen counties.

Hundreds of motorists were stranded in their vehicles as some of Houston’s main roadways flooded, submerging cars. Firefighters, police and ordinary citizens were out in boats and all-terrain vehicles to pick up people trapped in their homes by the rising waters.

The storm knocked out power to around 100,000 people in Houston and southeast Texas, according to reports from energy companies, while work at oil refineries in the area was slowed or halted.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city was better prepared to rescue stranded residents and deal with flooding than when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, leading to dozens of deaths in Houston and billions of dollars in damage.

The small town of Winnie, about 60 miles (100 km) east of Houston, was also badly hit. Officials there evacuated Riceland Hospital and tried to rescue people marooned in their vehicles after roads turned into lakes.

Parts of Interstate 10, a major east-west highway, were closed near Winnie.

Imelda made landfall as a tropical storm near Freeport, Texas, on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston, Jonathan Allen in New York, Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, and Liz Hampton in Denver; Editing by Scott Malone, David Gregorio and Tom Hogue)

Four people killed, thousands evacuated as floods hit southeast Spain

By Jon Nazca and Marco Trujillo

PILAR DE LA HORADADA/ORIHUELA, Spain (Reuters) – Four people have been killed and over 1,500 evacuated in two days of torrential rains in southeastern Spain, with many roads, train networks and an airport closed on Friday and emergency services rescuing people stuck in flooded highway tunnels.

Floods swept away cars and debris in the regions of Valencia, Murcia and eastern Andalucia. Motorway tunnels in some areas were flooded almost up to the tunnel lighting, with some vehicles partly or fully submerged.

A man was found dead in Granada province on Friday after his car was swept off a motorway and another died in Almeria after trying to drive through a flooded tunnel, rescue services said. Two siblings died on Thursday when torrential rain dragged their car away.

A total of 74 roads were closed, as was the whole Murcia regional railway service, and the Murcia airport. The railway link between Alicante and Spain’s two main cities – Madrid and Barcelona – was shut, acting Interior Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska said.

Some affected areas saw record daily rainfall for the month of September.

“The situation is critical, all the municipality is full of water,” Mario Cervera, mayor of the town of Alcazares, one of the most affected in Murcia, told Spain’s state-run TVE channel.

Rescue workers were using a helicopter and boats in various areas, he said.

“This man was holding onto a traffic sign… the officer and I jumped to take him out,” one emergency worker told Reuters.

In addition to people already evacuated, some 2,000 residents of the town of Santomera in Murcia were being removed from their homes due to a planned controlled release from a local dam to avoid its overflowing, the interior minister said.

“The forecasts do not point to a worsening of the situation, but we have to be cautious,” he told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting before heading to the affected areas.

The rain appeared to be easing but rivers were still at risk of overflowing, including the Segura, which has already flooded the town of Orihuela in Alicante and could flood in the city of Murcia, the local water management authority said.

Authorities have recommended citizens stay at home in the affected areas and avoid using their cars.

Tourists were left stranded in Alicante airport as many flights were delayed or canceled.

“We’ve been in the queue here four or five hours, it’s very difficult to get to the toilet, impossible to get anything to eat,” Haydn Harding, a 78-year old diabetic tourist from Northern Ireland, said at the airport.

(Additional reporting by Jose Rodriguez, Paola Luelmo, Emma Pinedo and Jesus Aguado; Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Frances Kerry)